Critics Pile on the Kieran Timberlake Design for American Embassy In London

Really, never in the history of architecture have so many said so much, so quickly. We have a soft spot for Kieran Timberlake; they do smart, green design, and I was thrilled that they got the nod for this project. Others are not so sure, as one can see from the critical comments gathered by ArchNewsNow.
Christopher Hawthorne in the LA Times sorta likes it:

The design suggests that, rather than standing in for certain American virtues, what a contemporary U.S. embassy should be doing is behaving virtuously. KieranTimberlake, in a written description of its concept, refers to the range of positive ways in which the building will "perform," both as an example of sustainable architecture and as a piece of urban design.


Philip Kennicott in the Washington Post:

The winning design's emphasis on sustainability isn't just trendy architectural positioning, argued [author] Loeffler. It is symbolically important as a diplomatic gesture. It also demonstrates how sustainability and security are interwoven in embassy architecture. A structure with its own water and energy sources isn't just kind to the environment, it's also self-reliant during a crisis. Loeffler cites the U.S. Embassy in Haiti -- an exemplar of the State Department's recent more fortresslike structures -- which withstood last month's devastating earthquake and has kept functioning through the aftermath.


Hugh Pearman in Gabion suggests that it is a remake of the Tower of London:

It's as if Philadelphia-based Stephen Kieran and James Timberlake looked at the brief given to architects in the competition, and decided - OK, they want a fortress, we'll damn well give them a fortress. One that looks the part. One with a moat, and defensive embankments, and a clear line of sight for the archers, the lot. Oh, and it should be "white".

But ends well:

it remains a fortress, which is a building type normally built, as William the Conqueror would have told you, by invading powers against hostile inhabitants. It's unfortunate that the state of the world today makes this necessary. But it is brave and imaginative of the winning practice to make a virtue out of this. Given the constraints, I was not expecting the U.S Embassy competition to yield much of merit. Thanks to these architects, it has.

I can't actually tell what Jonathan Glancey of the Guardian thinks of it:

The new embassy will adopt the form of a giant glass box on stilts rising from a Princess Diana-style memorial park, complete with a lake and what appears to be a ha-ha. Seriously...

Cool, remote and superficially transparent, the winning design does reflect what we can divine of the US political process. Nominally open to all and yet, in practice, tightly controlled, the system of US government and its prevailing culture, aped bad-temperedly in Britain, does indeed inform the brief to KieranTimberlake and their response to it.


Jay Merrick of the Independent is pleased that a smaller firm got the job.

It was a David and Goliath moment when KieranTimberlake's design was chosen by the architectural competition jury - who included Richard Rogers. KieranTimberlake is widely admired for the firm's meticulously designed campus buildings in America, but is hardly perceived as internationally "hot" compared to the behemoths it was competing against: Richard Meier, Morphosis, and PEI Cobb Freed and Partners, whose principals have all won architecture's Oscar, the Pritzker prize.

But in the end doesn't appear to like it as much as the offerings of the Oscar winners.

Is KieranTimberlake's design great architecture? Not on the evidence of the visuals, although in technical and operational terms it will probably be outstanding. It certainly wasn't the most intriguing design of the four on the final shortlist. Richard Meier's scheme had a great deal more distinction in terms of its coolly abstract form. And the offering from PEI Cobb Freed and Partners promised beautifully refined façades. These two schemes had a gravitas that KieranTimberlake's seems to lack.

Nicolai Ouroussoff in the New York Times damns with faint praise.

The proposed building -- a bland glass cube clad in an overly elaborate, quiltlike scrim -- is not inelegant by the standards of other recent American Embassies, but it has all the glamour of a corporate office block.

But in the end, he too prefers the Starchitects.

Given the impossibility of their task, it is hard not to feel compassion for the architects (particularly since KieranTimberlake is a relatively young and little-known firm). Yet both Richard Meier and Thom Mayne of Morphosis turned in far more sophisticated designs. Mr. Meier's, which breaks the building mass down into a Cubist composition of curves and planes, is one of his best in recent years; Mr. Mayne's, a distorted horseshoe wrapped around a deconstructed version of the Capitol dome in Washington, packs the most symbolic punch. (If you want to dismiss them as "star architects," be my guest, but the designs explain why they got their reputations.)

But I have been rooting for the relatively young and little known firm for years, and I am thrilled that they have broken into the big time. Embassies are tough jobs, and the mix of sustainablitity and security is daunting. Good for them.

More on Kieran Timberlake in TreeHugger

Kieran Timberlake + Living Homes= LBS
What Makes a Building Green? Kieran Timberlake Architects
Home Delivery: Wrapping It Up With The Cellophane House
Loblolly House: Pictures at Last
Why Is So Much Green Architecture So Ugly?

Tags: Design Competitions | London

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